Teach Your Kids About Integrating the Self with the Other - Woodmam

Now that you’ve learned a good bit about mindsight, here’s something you can read to your own child to introduce the concept of seeing your own and each other’s minds.

Integrating Ourselves: Making Sense of Our Own Story

The most important “we” in your life as a parent is the relationship you share with your child. That relationship significantly impacts your child’s future. Research studies have consistently shown that when parents offer repeated, predictable experiences in which they see and sensitively respond to their children’s emotions and needs, their children will thrive—socially, emotionally, physically, and even academically. While it’s not exactly a revelation that kids do better when they enjoy strong relationships with their parents, what may surprise you is what produces this kind of parent-child connection. It’s not how our parents raised us, or how many parenting books we’ve read. It’s actually how well we’ve made sense of our experiences with our own parents and how sensitive we are to our children that most powerfully influence our relationship with our kids, and therefore how well they thrive.

It all comes down to what we call our life narrative, the story we tell when we look at who we are and how we’ve become the person that we are. Our life narrative determines our feelings about our past, our understanding of why people (like our parents) behaved as they did, and our awareness of the way those events have impacted our development into adulthood. When we have a coherent life narrative, we have made sense of how the past has contributed to who we are and what we do.

A life narrative that hasn’t been examined and made sense of may limit us in the present, and may also cause us to parent reactively and pass down to our children the same painful legacy that negatively affected our own early days. For instance, imagine that your father had a difficult childhood. Perhaps his home was an emotional desert, where his parents didn’t comfort him when he was afraid or sad, and they were even cold and distant, leaving him to weather life’s hardships on his own. If they failed to pay attention to him and his emotions, he would be wounded in significant ways. As a result, he would grow into adulthood limited in his ability to give you what you need as his child. He might be incapable of intimacy and relationship; he could have difficulty responding to your emotions and needs, telling you to “toughen up” when you felt sad or alone or afraid. All of this might even result from implicit memories of which he’d have no awareness. Then you, as you became an adult and a parent yourself, would be in danger of passing down the same damaging patterns to your own kids. That’s the bad news.

The good news, though—the better-than-good news—is that if you make sense of your experiences and understand your father’s woundedness and relational limitations, you can break the cycle of handing down such pain. You can begin to reflect on those experiences and how they’ve impacted you.

You might be tempted to simply parent in a way exactly opposite of how your parents did it. But the idea, instead, is to openly reflect on how your experiences with your parents have affected you. You may need to deal with implicit memories that are influencing you without your realizing it. Sometimes it can be helpful to do this work with a therapist, or share your experiences with a friend. However you do it, it’s important that you begin getting clear on your own story, because through mirror neurons and implicit memory, we directly pass on our emotional life to our children—for better or for worse. Knowing that our kids live with and through whatever we’re experiencing is a powerful insight that can motivate us to begin and continue our journey toward understanding our own stories, the joys as well as the pain. Then we can attune to the needs and signals of our children, creating secure attachment and strong and healthy connection.

Research shows that even adults who experienced less-than-optimal childhoods can parent every bit as effectively, and raise children who feel just as loved and securely attached, as those whose home life was more consistent and loving. It’s never too late to begin working on your coherent life narrative, and as you do, your children will reap the rewards.

We want to make this point as clearly as possible: early experience is not fate. By making sense of your past you can free yourself from what might otherwise be a cross-generational legacy of pain and insecure attachment, and instead create an inheritance of nurturance and love for your children.
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